Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Seasons of Temporary Acquisition

My house is a mess.

That's probably not the sentence I should lead off with in a blog post about organizing, but there you have it. Last week, the movers brought my dad's furniture to his apartment about three miles from our house. Last weekend, my husband, my dad and I sorted through the rest of the stuff at his condo in New Jersey. Some of the things got tossed, many got donated and/or left behind and way too much made the trip back to Pennsylvania with us. Now, in addition to the regular day-to-day clutter in our mostly empty nest, we have boxes and piles of things to deal with -- things that were not trash and almost treasure. Some will be donated, some we will keep. All need to be sorted and everything needs a home besides the place where it is currently taking up space.

It's a process, right?

I'm not sorry we erred on the side of caution in bringing things here; I'd rather sort more slowly and carefully to make sure nothing we valued for physical or emotional reasons gets tossed. I am, however, a little overwhelmed by all that has to be done on top of the regular stuff that has to be done.

Some seasons of life are like that. When my husband and I moved into our first apartment, there were about five boxes that took me forever to unpack (much to his dismay). When we got ready to send my daughter off to college, our house looked like a storage facility for much of August. Some seasons of life, by their very nature, seem to attract "stuff" that isn't dealt with in a simple fashion. Maybe it's there only temporarily, like my daughter's dorm supplies. Maybe it needs a home. Maybe we need time to adjust to getting rid of it. Whatever the reason, it rents space in our homes and our heads until we deal with it.

I'm trying to remind myself that if I do this right, I'll actually have an opportunity to divest myself of a few things here that need new homes. I've already gotten rid of one piece of furniture that I haven't liked for a long time, replacing it with a smaller piece that was at my parents' house. In the process, the contents of the discarded piece found new homes, were tossed out or stuck in a box for me to sort through as time permits. That last strategy was less than ideal, but was the consequence of removing the old piece from the house as soon as possible.

I'm trying to come at this a little at a time, and though my head and heart know that's the best strategy, my toes are tired of running into boxes.

Tune in tomorrow for the three keys I'm using to stay sane as I work through this temporary state of affairs.

Friday, January 26, 2018

3 Keys Thursday/Friday: 3 Ways to Approach that Drawer Makeover

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
On Wednesday, I wrote about revamping a couple of drawers in my house. In addition to decluttering, I'm hoping for a domino effect -- one that frees up space so I can find homes for some of the homeless items in my office. If I'm really lucky, I hope to get rid of a piece of furniture that is past its prime but still needed for storage. That, however, may be overly optimistic.

Despite my enthusiasm for this topic, my schedule has not allowed me to dig in as I'd like, setting aside an hour or so to dig in, sort, toss and reorganize. Consequently, I've been forced to come up with alternative approaches which can be used separately, alternately or together until the drawer is finished.

Give it five. Set the timer for five minutes and then open the drawer. Take stock of its contents, keeping your eyes peeled for anything old, broken, out of date or easy to get rid of. Can't find anything? That's okay. Use the remaining time to create a game plan or to dig in, working until the timer goes off.

Beat the clock. This is the multitasking version of Give it Five. The other night, I was waiting for pasta to finish cooking. That gave me about ten minutes to dig into the drawer and make some progress. I sorted one small stack of papers, tossed/shredded some out-of-date/no longer needed items and put what was left in either a new home or back in the drawer. There's still work to be done but, as with Give it Five! even that small amount of time made a dent and motivated me to come back and dig in again, even if I have only a small block of time. Perhaps this afternoon as I wait for the dryer timer to go off....

Section it off. Since drawers are rectangular, they can easily be sorted into quadrants. Mentally (or even physically, if you prefer), split the drawer into sections and work on one section at a time. Use a small bin that fits inside the drawer to separate the things you're keeping from the things that need to be sorted and perhaps consider sectioning the drawer off permanently, especially if your personal style is I need to see it or your organizational style is I know I put it somewhere. Breaking the large goal of the whole drawer down into smaller steps helps to create a sense of accomplishment along the way as we have visual evidence of the progress we're making.

The logic behind these strategies is two-fold. Setting smaller goals can help us to stop procrastinating and attack the project in a manageable way. In addition, doing this can build a momentum that can be just the impetus we need to finish the whole drawer, if time permits.

Looking at the weekend ahead, I'm not optimistic about an uninterrupted hour presenting itself so, if I want to dig into those drawers, I might just be using these strategies myself. If you're with me, share your successes in the comments below so I can celebrate along with you!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Taking My Own Advice

Definitely no junk in this drawer. :-)
Photo: janmarcust via Pixabay
Do you have a junk drawer? If you've lived in your house for more than a decade, chances are you have several. Before you leap to defend yourself, ask yourself this question: "When was the last time I really looked at what's inside my drawers?"

I admit to one junk drawer, but quite a few that are junky; and, in fact, my junk drawer didn't start out as a junk drawer, which probably means it's time for me to reclaim it. This sudden desire to tackle my drawers was inspired by the writing of last Wednesday's post  -- a task that was not only fun, but also got me thinking.

How many of these things do I need to tackle in 2018?

I stand by my own advice to choose just a few of the eighteen I proposed (in addition to #1, #9 and #18, for obvious reasons), but I have to admit that cleaning out one drawer (okay, maybe a couple) is more necessary and productive at my house than cleaning out one closet (#4).

I've completely revamped five drawers in my house over the last couple of years, and in all but one case, the makeover not only stuck, but still works. And, even better, opening those drawers still makes me smile because not only does it look nice inside, I can also see everything I need. And, in the case of my flag drawer in particular, it's made me more efficient in at least one task.

Drawer makeovers are something I enjoy, in part because they're one of the few times where multitasking actually works. I can listen to music or a podcast or, if the piles are portable, I can even watch television as I sort. And, by the time a drawer needs resorting, I'm likely to easily get rid of lots of stuff I forgot I had, and maybe even take a trip down memory lane as I stumble across photos, ticket stubs or other memorabilia.

And so right now, in the middle of my cluttered office and my busy day, I'm taking a moment to write "dining room drawer" in my planner. Writing it down and putting it where I have to look at it daily means that even if I have to chip away at that drawer a little at a time, I will make progress -- if for no other reason than to be able to check it off my list.

And maybe, if I'm lucky, it'll free up some of the space I so desperately need to reduce the clutter in my office.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: Getting Started in STYLE

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Is 2018 your year to organize by STYLE? Here are three key components (and three links) to get you started.
  • Claim your styles. Decide which personal style and which organizational style best describes you. You may have traits of others as well, but begin by determining which styles you most identify with.
  • Decide which one dominates. I'm an I need to see it/drop and run person, but typically, my I need to see it style prevails. If I keep that in the forefront of my mind when I clear clutter and restore organization, I'm more likely to set up a plan that works long-term.
  • Choose the right tools. To break the drop and run habit, I need to find tools that allow me to see what I'm looking for. Since away is as good as forgotten, any container that keeps things out of sight gets ignored in favor of the dropping and running that allows me to see what I need. If, however, I do something as simple as using a file box with an open top, putting things away is easy, and, though they're more out of sight than they'd be on top of my desk, they're easily accessible, and still a little visible as well. 
When you're feeling overwhelmed, go back to basics. What are your styles, and what are they crying out for?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

18 Things to Try in 2018

The semester has started, the play I'm in has not ended and the list of things to do over break still has a few items remaining. With all of this overlap in projects and preparations, I'm not feeling the organizing vibe. But, when I look around, I definitely see progress when I compare this year to last year. (I also see two fully decorated Christmas trees that need to be taken down, but that's another story).

Since it's still January, the month of resolutions, I thought I'd suggest a few things to try this year so that this time next year, you can look at an imperfect, lived-in space and smile at the progress you've made. No need to be a perfectionist and try all eighteen -- just choose a couple that speak to you.

And, by all means, do #9 and #18.

 1. Embrace your styles.
 2. Don't put it down, put it away.
 3. Find a solution to one problem area.
 4. Clean out one closet.
 5. Get rid of 365 things. Too many? How about 52 -- that's just one a week.
 6. Buy a planner you really love and use it.
 7. Use small chunks of time to clean up small spaces or make progress in larger ones.
 8. Resolve to spend an hour a week making progress on a large space, like a garage, basement or attic.
 9. Do something fun just for you.
10. Declare one hour each week "organizing time" and use it to tackle all the nagging little projects you never quite get to.
11. Make one area of your house -- a counter, a shelf, a desktop -- both organized and attractive.
12. Resolve to keep one surface clutter-free.
13. Assign homes to three important items you waste time searching for.
14. Splurge on one container that really fits your styles.
15. Find the perfect purse or work bag.
16. Make a packing or grocery list template.
17. Find permanent homes for ten homeless items.
18. Be patient with yourself. Organizing is, after all, a process.

Other ideas? Goals of your own? Share them in the comments below.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Questions to ask When it's Time to Troubleshoot

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Lately, I've been losing things. This is unusual for me, and it's typically a sign that I'm too busy to keep up with everything that needs to be done. Although it's annoying, it's a wake up call that I need to step back and figure out a way to turn things around.

Because I know I've reached a point in my organizational journey where my systems work -- as long as I use them, -- I don't need to throw up my hands and start from scratch. But, no matter how good it is, no system is self-maintaining. I've learned that when things start to get rough around the edges, it's time (or, sometimes, past time) to troubleshoot and ask myself some key questions:
  • Do my systems fit both my styles and my lifestyle? If they fit my personal and organizational styles but require a more time-consuming process than my schedule permits, it might be time to revamp. 
  • Are my systems overwhelmed? Did I choose "just right" containers, or tools that allow me (and my possessions) room to grow?
  • Is this a temporary problem? Certain times of the year and certain seasons of life are more hectic (and therefore more chaotic as well). If "this, too, shall pass," is there any point in revamping your entire system?
What are your signs that it's time to troubleshoot?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

One in One Out: Making the Holidays Fit

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
'Tis the season for making resolutions. Is organization one of yours?

Putting away holiday decorations and finding space for all the goodies Santa put under the tree might be one of the first challenges of the new year. If the stroke of midnight on January 1 is your signal to put away the holiday decor, you've probably come face-to-face with this challenge already. If you, like me, are a late undecorator (not one, but two trees are still up at my house), perhaps you're putting off dealing with this task.

In my pre-STYLE days, when I was first reading voraciously about organization, I learned the "one in/one out" rule. For every new thing you bring in, something else needs to go out.

Sometimes, it's an even exchange. Replace the old pair of black slacks in the closet with the new pair, or replace a clunky old desk with a new, streamlined version.

The exchanges don't have to be even, though. While it's a win in the space wars if the two items are similar in size (or, better yet, what you're getting rid of is bigger than what you're bringing in), one in/one out is simply a good habit. Since few of us can keep adding new possessions indefinitely without running into space issues, getting into the habit of replacing something old with something new helps keep things under control. In addition, it sets up a system in which we're consistently evaluating what we have, making us less likely to buy what we don't need.

As you undeck the halls and ring in the new year, what part of the old year can you let go of?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys of a Working Organizational System

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
At the beginning of this week, I sat down and set writing goals, personal goals and a few other goals for 2018.

I did not set organizing goals.

I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing; organizing by STYLE is my ongoing organizing goal. And, although I'm drowning a bit in the transition from Christmas to New Year's to a new semester, the  things that are working outnumber those that aren't.

How can you tell if a system is working? Here are three ways.

The side effects of your default styles are minimized -- or better yet, gone. Pile-ups, mystery locations, crushed, torn or broken items and that horrible feeling of being completely overwhelmed by stuff are wispy memories when your system is working. If those side effects (in my case, that would be pile ups and visual clutter) are re-emerging, that's often the first hint that a system needs to be tweaked.

You use it on a regular basis. Good systems are easy to use and maintain. If you're bypassing the system, a key component of one of your styles is probably going unaddressed. Set aside the "shoulds" and plan realistically. Maybe that metal file cabinet that keeps everything hidden is a great tool for your spouse, but if you pile things on top of it instead of opening the drawers, maybe a file holder with an open top is a better fit for your style.

You can find what you're looking for.  To me, the true test of being organized is that you can find what you're looking for in five minutes or less. Smoothly running systems earn their keep in saved time and reduced stress. If you have to go on a scavenger hunt for something every time you need it, it may be time to re-think the location you've chosen. This is also true when the supply of something has overrun its container or when you remember where it is, but it takes you more than five minutes to dig it out.

So, I guess my organization goal for 2018 is pretty simple: create more of the above. It's the best way I know to win the war on clutter.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Three Kinds of Time

jarmoluk via Pixabay
Last week, as I contemplated getting back into the swing of things as the old year ended and the new year began, I decided that there are three kinds of time. There's peak time -- time when we're awake, alert and motivated. Then there's intermediate time -- we're awake, but alertness and/or motivation are lagging. Finally, there's down time, in which trying to accomplish anything is an uphill battle, at best.

Peak time is, understandably, the best time to get things done. When this occurs each day varies from person to person. (Even though I'm a night person, my best time is late morning and early afternoon). If we aim to be productive, peak time is the time we should protect and the time during which we should schedule our most taxing tasks.

From a productivity perspective, intermediate time holds a lot of promise. Even if concentration and/or motivation aren't at their best, plenty of tasks don't require peak concentration and motivation. Routine household and organizing tasks, for example, like emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, sorting mail and putting things back where they belong can be allocated to this type of time. Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part and once we get going, we get a second wind. If not, and we run out of steam before completely finishing the task, at least we've made progress.

While it might seem like a waste of time from a productivity perspective, down time is the time that makes productivity possible. We weren't meant to run nonstop 24/7 and, without time to simply relax and regroup, we quickly deplete both peak time and intermediate time. Finding those time slots and stamping them "Mine, all mine!" is key to keeping things in balance.

Next time you look at your to-do list, keep these three kinds of time in mind. What belongs in peak time? Intermediate time? What time slot will you brand as "Mine, all mine"?